RARA-AVIS: Recently read

From: Al Guthrie ( allanguthrie@ukonline.co.uk)
Date: 09 Jul 2002

BOBBY GOLD by Anthony Bourdain. Read this in manuscript last night. It's terrific. A modern Fawcett Gold Medal. 128 pages of non-stop action. I've avoided Bourdain up till now, largely because my wife claims he's the coolest person she's ever met. Well, that was dumb, but I'll be making up for it by getting his backlist pronto. I confess, also, that the idea of celebrity chef writing hardboiled crime fiction didn't sit too well in my judgemental little brain. The reality is that Bourdain is a hardboiled crime writer who just happens to be able to cook. At least, that's my opinion based on this little gem. I'm sure that he's also very cool.

BOBBY GOLD is the story of a young Jewish hood. His story is told chronologically, beginning with the day he was caught with a large volume of cocaine hidden in his car. Bobby goes to prison. He doesn't rat on his partner, Eddie, who, while Bobby is serving his time, becomes a major player in the underworld. Eight years later Bobby is released. In prison he learned how to fight. He pushed weights. He's now six foot four inches of solid muscle. Eddie gives him a job as head of security at one of his clubs. Eddie uses him to pass on messages to people who owe Eddie money. There's a fantastic scene where Bobby is sent to break the arm of a sixty-two year old man he's known since he was a kid. It's so damned good that I have to share a bit of it with you. The old man, Jerry, has the money for Eddie. But, as Bobby points out, that's not the point. He should have had it yesterday. Today's too late. Bobby gives him some pills to act as an analgesic. While they're taking effect, the two men sit down.

"They were both quiet for a while, Bobby sipping his Scotch, gazed idly out the window into JayBee's rear alleyway, listening to the rain pelt the thick panes of alarmed glass and the distant whine from the compressors. The Rottweiler, awake now, poked his head into the room, a filthy squeaky toy between his massive jaws. Seeing no one interested in playing with him, the big dog turned and left, the toy making hiccuping sounds.
    "What's the dog's name?" asked Bobby.
    "Schtarker," said Jerry, uninterested. "That's Yiddish, if you didn't know. People used to say that about you."
    Bobby let that go - consulted his watch.
    "Few more minutes and I'll be ready, okay?" said Jerry. "I'm startin' to feel them pills."
    "No problem," said Bobby. "I don't have to be at the club for a while. I've got time."
    "How's that working out for you?"
    "Good," said Bobby. "It's going good... I'm head of security now."
    "Nice for you."
    "Yeah... It's okay."
    "You ever get anybody there I'd like? You know... somebody...somebody I could take Rose to see? She loves Neil Diamond. You ever get Neil Diamond there?"
    "No," said Bobby. "We had.. let's see.. we had.. Lena Home once...we had Vic Damone and Jerry Vale. We had him."
    "Yeah? Good?"
    "Yeah...they were good. You know... not my kind of music, but good."
    "Bobby... if you ever get anybody there...you know...that Rose would like...I'd appreciate it. If you could get us in. She'd love that. If I actually took her out sometime. They got the dinner and the dancing and everything over there, right?"
    "Yeah...the whole deal. And the food's not bad."
    "Lamb chops? I like a good lamb chop."
    "Yeah...we got that."
    "I'll put you on the list any time you want to bring her," said Bobby.
    "Eddie...He ain't gonna mind?"
    "As long as you fucking pay on time, Jerry, he won't give a shit. You can do the fucking hokey-pokey on the table - he won't care - he's never there anyway. Just call me when you want to come."
    "Thanks....I appreciate that."
    "So," said Bobby. "You ready?"
    "Shit," said Jerry, exhaling loudly.
    "Take off your glasses, Jer'...'
    "You gotta do that?"
    "Do what?"
    "The face... You gotta do the face?"
    "I dunno...I thought...maybe just the arm would be enough..."
    "Jerry..." repeated Bobby, standing up.
    "Awright...awright...Jesus fuck...Lemme get a tissue at least."
    "I brought a handkerchief," said Bobby, reaching again into his jacket, this time for a neatly folded cotton square. "Here. Keep it."
    "Always prepared," muttered Jerry, sourly. He removed his glasses and put them carefully on the desk. "They teach you that in the Boy Scouts? What did you used to have to say? "A Boy Scout is...trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, courteous, kind, clean and - ""
    Bobby hit him across the nose with the back of his hand. Quickly. It was a sharp, precise blow that knocked Jerry into his chair-back.
    "Shit!" said Jerry, honking a red streak onto his shirt front, then covering his face with the handkerchief. He rocked silently in his chair for a moment while Bobby looked around the room for a fat enough book to finish with.
    "Get it over with!" said Jerry. "Do it now... while I'm distracted!" He rolled up his shirt sleeve.
    Bobby found what he was looking for - a thick, hardbacked copy of MOLLUSKS AND BIVALVES OF THE NORTH ATLANTIC, and quickly placed the book in front of Jerry on the desk. Jerry knew the drill. He compliantly laid his thin, blue-veined arm against the spine so that the hand was raised, then closed his eyes. "Do it!" he said."

If that doesn't whet your appetite...Well, I don't know. There's no pleasing some folk. The rest of the book? Bobby finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into trouble, pissing off people who you shoudn't piss off, and having to think fast to save his skin.

I don't have a publication date for this, but it should be within the next couple of months. Anybody read BONE IN THE THROAT or GONE BAMBOO?


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